The clock’s ticking

I don’t feel the need to celebrate my birthday and I guess that’s partly a reflection of my advancing years. Of course, when your birthday’s close to Christmas, it does tend to take the shine off of it. Additionally, the date generally conflicts with my beloved’s business activities. As a result, in earlier years, I’ve spent birthdays either on my lonesome  – cue violins – or with his sales team. I spent this year’s birthday with my hygienist and dentist – a novel way to celebrate!

I visit my hygienist once a year which is enough to keep my gnashers and, more importantly, my gums in tip-top condition. American by birth, she’s no run of the mill practitioner, she’s one of the best around and operates out of a swanky London address. My teeth always look several shades lighter after she’s done her worst best and they feel so smooth and clean.

Next up, a quick trip across town to my dentist who had come up with a novel way to make my front teeth look less obviously crossed. The man’s a genius! My teeth look so much better but no one’s yet worked out why or how – a result. My pearly whites were now deserving of an outing, but where?

When I lived in London, I used to maintain a list of hot restaurants and hotels, all based on personal recommendation. It was a much prized list – think Trip Advisor, but so much better! Business colleagues and friends would call me to get a copy of the list, or better, a suggestion before booking their trips to London. Of course, once you no longer live in London, the list quickly loses its lustre.

There was one restaurant I wanted to visit, Adam Handling’s at the Caxton Hotel in Victoria. I’d admired his cooking on Professional MasterChef, bought his recent cookery book “Smile or Get out of the Kitchen” and tried a number of his recipes. But I’d decided, it was no substitute for the real thing. I booked a table for three. Yes, I took my dentist along!

Any place that welcomes you with a free glass of wine as you cross their threshold is going to get my vote. The staff were warm, welcoming and contributed greatly to the hotel and restaurant’s ambience. While we awaited the arrival of my beloved, my dentist made short work of the delicious nibbles served with our (free) drinks in the bar.

Wild Sea Bass  - here one minute, gone the next!
Wild Sea Bass – here one minute, gone the next!

The meal exceeded my impossibly high expectations. I got to try nine of Adam’s fantastic dishes – now you understand why I took my dentist. I also learned that my version of Adam’s Pistachio cake was spot on.  I did take a few photographs but they were largely of plates quickly and greedily licked clean. There’s no picture of my starter as I’d already wolfed down the meltingly unctuous pork belly with octopus before getting my iPhone out to snap my main course and dessert.

Pistachio Cake with Artichoke Iceream - heavenly
Pistachio Cake with Artichoke Ice Cream – heavenly

The restaurant was busy but even so I blagged a visit to the kitchen. A haven of tranquility as the chefs calmly cooked and plated up. It was a small, well-ordered kitchen, not that much bigger than mine, with an obviously  happy and well-trained crew. I’ll be going again on my next visit to London, there are dishes still to try on the small, beautifully designed and crafted menu. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to work my way through Adam’s recipes at home.  Of course, don’t just take my word for it, the restaurant has just picked up it’s first (of many) awards.

Bookatable

 

Postscript: Last week-end, a crowd of us got together down on the beach to eat Galette des Rois and other sweet treats – a French tradition in January. I took the edges from the two cakes I’d previously made from Adam’s book out of the freezer and turned them into cake truffles using a recipe in another favourite, much-thumbed cookery book, Momofuku’s Milk Bar.

Melting mouthfulls
Melting mouthful

I mixed the Pistachio cake with a little of my homemade lemon-curd and then coated the small truffle-sized balls in white melted chocolate and milk-crumbs. I mixed the Hazelnut and Burnt Butter cake with some liquid cheesecake and rolled the result in 70% dark chocolate and chocolate crumbs. It was a wonderfully messy job – thank Heavens for disposable latex gloves. They were a BIG hit. A clear case of “waste not, want not.”

 

Plans awry

Our festive period tends to follow a pattern. We entertain friends the week-end before and then spend the entire period cycling plenty of kilometres, to wear off the additional calories, returning to work in the New Year, batteries recharged.

I’m not a fan of Christmases en famille. As children we never had table busting family Christmases. Frankly, not enough relatives. My father was an orphan and while my mother had living relatives, her older sister and mother, whom we saw at least once a week. No need to spend Christmas Day with them though we would see them over the festive period.

Initially, we spent Christmas with friends of my parents but, once they had children of their own, we spent the day chez nous. First as a foursome and then, after the arrival of my youngest sister Jane, a quintet. Occasionally, I recall, we’d have Christmas Day lunch at a hotel or restaurant. But with a Mum who was a fantastic cook and hostess, and a father in the food trade, why would you?

In all our many, many years of marriage, we’ve had a total of eight family Christmases, only one of which was with the outlaw. A few of you may be wondering, somewhat enviously, how I managed this. I cannot claim any real credit. Rather it was all down to my mother-in-law’s lack of ability in the kitchen. Her cooking carries a government health warning. Would you want to spend Christmas with her? No, me neither! Given half a chance my beloved would have spent every Christmas with my family – my mother used to dote on him –  with whom we’ve spent seven Christmases, the last one here in France in 2005.

It was memorable for a number of reasons. We finally persuaded my father that my mother’s forgetfulness and sudden-found shy reticence was the result of Alzheimer’s not a personality change. The newly installed dishwasher in the new kitchen sprang a leak on Christmas Eve and I had to wash up by hand throughout the entire festive season. My parents spent three weeks with us, my sisters and my one brother-in-law only stayed a week but, at the end of those three weeks, I was exhausted from waiting on everyone hand and foot. I still recall my beloved cuddling up to me in bed, the day my parents left, saying: “Haven’t we had a wonderful Christmas and New Year?” My response was unrepeatable!

I have spent a number of Christmases working – one of the perils of being in Finance. But we’ve enjoyed more abroad, skiing in either Austria, Germany or Switzerland or relaxing  in warmer climates such as Spain, Dubai and Arizona.

Since moving to France, in recent years, we’ve settled into a bit of a routine with the bikes. Christmas Eve we indulge in our usual oysters and champagne – very French! Christmas Day we dine at a local restaurant. This year we ate warm, home-made, cinnamon buns for breakfast and enjoyed a ride in the bracing air which gave us a good appetite for lunch, followed by a brisk walk along the sea-front in the sunshine. Pretty much all according to plan.

2014-12-25 15.08.34

Boxing Day, my beloved and I both went down with a gastric-flu type of bug. We were laid low for several days which left us far too weak to cycle or indeed do much of anything. It was only on New Year’s Eve that we once more felt almost back to normal, though we didn’t see in the New Year. New Year’s Day, we enjoyed afternoon tea at a hotel overlooking the sea. It was afternoon tea French style, teeny-weeny pastries with tea, not a scone in sight. We had planned to stay and watch the fireworks but after enjoying the sunshine, felt chilled as soon as the sun set. We hurried back home to a bowl of hot soup.

2015-01-01 15.16.582015-01-01 17.09.58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We may not have logged the hoped for kilometres but we’ve gotten an early start with the New Year detox and  reorganised a lot of drawers and cupboards. The late Wallis Simpson allegedly said “You can never be too rich, or too thin.” To which I would like to add, “or ever have enough storage space.” I’m going to be busy recycling this coming week, which will leave me with a warm, self-satisfied glow.

Highlights

New Year’s Day is not a bad time for sober reflection on the last 12 months. What were the highlights of another busy and thoroughly enjoyable year? In no particular order, here goes:-

1. Amael Moinard (BMC) wins stage 2 of Tour du Haut Var in Draguigan

Amael Moinard

There’s nothing nicer than seeing someone you know win. Particularly someone who spends most of the season working his socks off for his team mates. We saw Amael’s victory in the company of his wife and children which made it even more special. His two young boys were thrilled, going onto the podium with their father to receive the trophy. A moment they’ll always treasure, which was captured by the mother of another professional rider who kindly gave me the picture. A fellow VeloVoice (Thanks Chris) gave it the Andy Warhol treatment, I had it printed and it now hangs in the Moinard’s hallway. A constant reminder of a special moment, one we were fortunate to share.

2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) wins Vuelta al Pais Vasco

VpVstage1winnerBertir

A stunning win on stage one by Bertie in truth secured him the overall. He looked to be back to his best, heralding the prospect of a thrilling summer of racing.

3. Book de Tour

book du tour small cover for style v5

I edited Greig Leach’s narrative accompanying his marvellous record of last year’s Tour de France. It wasn’t the Tour we were all anticipating but it was none the less thrilling. The crowds for the UK Grand Depart in Yorkshire were unprecedented –  wonderful to see, and experience. The race had more twists than a barleycorn, an emphatic victor and each stage’s tales were beautifully captured by Greig in bright clear colours which convey a real sense of movement, occasion and emotion. I’m hoping this first successful foray into printed medium will be just the start of a new venture for Greig. His paintings deserve to be more widely shared.

4. The Basque Country

Cycling: 32th Clasica San Sebastian 2012

We managed three visits by dint of our trip along the northern coastline of Spain to last year’s World Championship in Ponferrada. We’re slowly exploring more and more of the region on two wheels and refining our list of must-visit hotels, restaurants and bars. It’s a region which never fails to delight us and we’d move there in a nano second were it not for the weather. Once again we visited places we might never have gone to were it not for bike racing and our lives would be poorer because of it.

5. Marquez Boys Double

marc-marquez-alex-marquez-motogp-moto3

Having watched Marc Marquez take the world of MotoGP by storm, breaking records every which way since his rookie season in the 125cc class, it was great to see him (easily) retain his World Championship and for his younger brother Alex take the MotoGP3 title. Their parents must be so proud of them.

6. Conviviality of Cannondale Pro Cycling

Jake Hamm CPC Studio 8785b

Our friends at G4 provided the casual wear for Cannondale and, because I lend them a hand wherever I can, I got to spend time at training camps and races with the boys. We were made to feel part of the extended Italian family and looked forward to meeting up with them at races. In return, I think the boys enjoyed my cakes which I believe have moved up a notch since moving from club events to WorldTour. While the name continues, the team’s backbone is no more. But we wish all the former staff and riders every success in their new teams and roles. Thank you for a memorable year, we’ll cherish it forever.

You may have noticed that, one way or another, every highlight involved two wheels! I’m hoping 2015 continues in a similar vein.